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My Question: My male military macaw is becoming sexually mature. One odd behavior I've noticed is that when I am allopreening him, (I try to avoid any deliberate arousal), he now opens his beak and works his tongue in a very specific way, which he never did in the past.

I know that the flehmen response is specific to some mammals, (although many more animals, including snakes, use the vomeronasal organ to locate mates). This is the closest thing I can think of in terms of behavior.

I saw an intriguing reference to male mallards' changing their reproductive behavior when their olfactory nerves were sectioned, but I've never read anything that specifically relates to the behavior I'm seeing.

Any thoughts about this? I never see him doing it when he isn't in more or less direct contact with me, but he isn't touching me with his beak or anything.

Thanks,
Nancy Sullivan

Answered by Steve Martin & Staff:

Hello Nancy! My name is Chris Jenkins, and I am one of the Supervisors with Natural Encounters, Inc. Steve forwarded me your question about your Military macaw, and we'd be happy to offer our thoughts.

When parrots in the wild are in the process of allopreening, there are often a number of other behaviors that seem to occur at the same time. These are sometimes referred to as "comfort behaviors", and include things like scratching, yawning, and stretching. Companion parrots often exhibit the same sorts of behaviors when they are being preened by their owners, and from what you've described our best guess is that what you're seeing is yawning. It doesn't sound like what your seeing is reproductively related, and it is possible that while the behavior was originally triggered by the stimulation of the preening itself, the "yawning" behavior may now be displayed more frequently either because the behavior itself is pleasurable for the bird, or because there is reinforcing value in whatever reaction he gets from you when the behavior is displayed. In speaking with Steve, he mentioned that he has most often seen this sort of behavior when a bird is scratched near the ears, so we'd be curious to know if the behavior is most noticeable when the preening occurs in this area.

Hope this information is helpful!

Chris Jenkins
Supervisor
Natural Encounters, Inc.

filed under: Behaviour and Training



Dear Phoebe, My Blue-fronted Amazon parrots live in a double-glazed conservatory. It has two doors, two windows, two skylights and the sides and roof are glass. I would be grateful if you would advise me about combining both temperature and humidity to keep my parrots comfortable. Both winter and summers weathers create different problems. During the summer the temperature is hotter inside the conservatory than outside. This year it was 85 degrees Fahrenheit causing dryness and low humidity. In the winter I keep the conservatory at 50 degrees Fahrenheit but I am unsure what temperature combined with humidity would protect the birds from a chill. The heating used is economy seven electric radiators and oil filled radiator. The heating dries the room, causing low humidity.

Please would you advise me what methods can be used to increase or decrease humidity?

I hope you are able to help resolve this problem.
Thank you, Sara Mylam

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hi Sara, Thanks for writing World Parrot Trust and for your desire to provide optimal environments for your Blue-fronted Amazons (Amazon aestiva).

First, I recommend that you immerse yourself in knowledge of wild Blue-fronted Amazon’s habitats.

Read everything you can, including all the info and links on parrots.org. Including
http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1648/0273-8570%282002%29073%5B0399%3ANSAHSO%5D2.0.CO%3B2?journalCode=forn

"Nesting success and hatching survival of the Blue-fronted Amazon (Amazon aestiva) in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul, Brazil"

Abstract:
We studied the reproductive biology of a population of Blue-fronted Amazons (Amazon aestiva) in the Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul State, Brazil, between 1997 and 1999. Nesting occurred from August to December. We monitored 94 nests, which were found in trees of different sizes. Nesting trees were distributed in all major vegetation associations (floodplains, grasslands, scrub savanna, savanna, arboreal savanna, riparian forests, and pastures). (emphasis mine, pgl)

I find this research fascinating and hope you do, too, because it gives us vast amounts of inspiration as we provide optimal habitats for our flocks. Now that we know that wild Blue-fronted Amazons live and nest in "all major vegetation associations," we can build habitats commensurate with their physiology.

Congratulations on the conservatory – we have one, too – a glass enclosed building, double-paned. It’s a space dedicated to parrots and people sharing, but it’s not inherently a “friendly” parrot environment. Modifications are needed, or so I’ve found. Additionally, it can be arid here in Santa Barbara, so, like you, I deal with issues of heat, humidity and sunlight.

We added retractable awnings to the outdoor roof of our conservatory and these are key. Decadent, I know, but pushing that button and having those awnings go out over the roof really helps the parrots’ environment stay viable. We also have an indoor sprinkler system, which was easy to install and is simple to use. On hot days, it’s a godsend.

With all the glass in the room, it can become weirdly reflective, so I use bamboo, rattan or other chewable mats which strategically drape and are affixed over cage sides and tops to allow for privacy and visual rest from windows and other forms of stimulation. Some of our parrots have three such shields: One or two on cage top, depending on how the sun at its brightest hits the cage; another on the side, depending on individual preference. So please, Sara, check your parrots and their cages / enclosures at various times throughout the day and provide full-body shade whenever they desire.

These natural fiber mats serve not only as privacy panels, but also as moisture holders and dispersers. Sprayed with water, moistened mats will cool the room for hours. Easily removable and cleanable, I find mats indispensable. If they get dirty, they get scrubbed, dried and re-used.

Additionally, we use three or more outdoor decorative movable screens that we simply prop against the windows where the sun hits hardest (this varies by season, of course) to cut down intensity. These cool the room considerably. Every day, as much as possible, I open the windows so that real natural sunlight and humidity enters the room.

On hot days, we open the windows plus drape thick wet towels on the outdoor screens. Now air entering the room is moist and cool.

Indoor plants with lots of foliage inside the room are beneficial water-retainers. Keep the area right outside the room also well hydrated with plants that provide shade, moisture, interest and loveliness. Potted plants can work – just be sure they are tall and robust enough to provide shade. Keep these areas hydrated and keep the windows open so the parrots have at least part of a sun-lit environment, too. Drenched plants, mats and screens, inspire parrots to get drenched, too.

Get-a-Grips (sold in WPT on-line store) by Star Bird, are perfect companions to hot rooms because they, too, can be sprayed down. The moisture released throughout the day helps reduce aridity. Our parrots and parrot room would be greatly impoverished without our Get-A-Grips.

Do use and maintain clean cool air humidifiers, too. I’ve found that reverse-osmosis (RO) water (available at stores that sell saltwater fish) keeps humidifiers clean and running great. I think 85oF is not too hot for Blue-fronted Amazons as long as the air is gently moving, humid and moist. Healthy parrots can also easily live in 50oF.

Finally, don’t stress too much about all but the most drastic extremes. Scientists tell us that wild Blue-fronted Amazons inhabit a variety of habitats. Encourage a fully realized relationship between you and your flock so that you are all tuned in to each other's levels of comfort, camaraderie and companionship. Stay open to signals from your parrots on what they like and use, where they go during different times of the day, and so forth. Keep tweaking the environment to make it better and better for them.

Last but not least, encourage your Blue-fronted Amazons to love bathing and showering. If you provide multiple water bowls or large shallow bowls (8 x 11 glass baking pans work) and they learn to get silly and wet in it, that’s great! Lots of showers, misting, water bowl bathing, plant leaf bathing – yay! That way, if you’re stuck in traffic on a hot day, your parrots can be having a blast in their water bowls.

All best, Phoebe Greene Linden and flock

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

Hi Dr. Cook, One of my cockatiels has been "picking" at her back - an area right between her wing couplings - for about 3 months now. If left to it, she will chew until it bleeds. She is not plucking feathers, just chewing on the down and then the skin underneath.

It seems to bother her most in the evenings. Both our cockatiels (no other pets or children in the house) get plenty of attention and have lots to do during the day, foraging, playing with toys, being out in their aviary, etc. They also eat very well, with a variety of fresh vegetables and fruits in their diets, and get plenty of sleep. They don't bathe as often as I would like, but we manage it every couple of weeks or so. We run a humidifier in their sleeping room during the day and try to keep it up around 45%. (They are about a year and a half old.)

I have taken her to our local avian vet, who ran some tests to look for infections and inspected her for lice and mites, but found none. He was puzzled because she otherwise seemed in good health.

He advised there could be a myriad of explanations - many of them difficult to diagnose - and suggested it might be behavioural, so we have been doing our best to interrupt her activity. He also warned to watch how we do so, as we might be reinforcing the behaviour.

We have tried applying aloe to the area, but it only seemed to make her do it more so we stopped.

After observing her for some time, I began to wonder if perhaps it was an allergy, and have taken all wheat products out of her diet. It has been 4 weeks now and I have seen no changes in the behaviour, and I am wondering just how long I should wait to get it completely out of her system. Both our birds do so enjoy their (whole wheat) bread and pasta treats, and I hated taking it away, but will do so if that turns out to be the culprit.

Can you make any suggestions as to a reasonable time? Thank you so much for your insights!

Michelle

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Michelle, Thanks for the great question! I have a 'tiel we rescued at my clinic that did the same thing as your bird; with proper diet and medication, her symptoms resolved in about three months, so there is hope for your bird.

This type of self-injurious behavior seen in cockatiels is often a symptom of physical disease. Food allergies would be much less likely to cause these symptoms, so I would allow your birds to have wheat again. A varied diet with a base of at least 70% pellets is best for parrots. Frequent bathing is essential for birds with feather issues, as this encourages normal preening. I recommend bathing or misting daily with plain, lukewarm water. I also advocate supplementation of the diet with omega-3,-6 fatty acids and natural sunlight at least three times weekly, plus a program of positive reinforcement to teach behaviors (such as tricks) to refocus the bird from self-injurious behavior.

Your avian veterinarian has wisely ruled out external parasites. I also recommend checking for internal parasites (such as Giardia), a complete blood count and chemistry profile and possibly a viral panel.

Good luck with your 'tiel!

filed under: Health and Nutrition

My husband and I have adopted a galerita cockatoo, a goffin's cockatoo and a jandaya conure, all of whom were in various states of disrepair. To provide sunlight and exercise, we are building a small 8' X 10' (8' in height) outdoor aviary. The entire aviary will be wire meshed on the inside and screened on the outside with a wire mesh floor covered with crusher dust. We have a few questions and would be very thankful for some help.

1. We have fire ants here in Valrico, Florida. Does anyone have advice on how to keep them out of the aviary?

2. We were advised that we should roof the entire aviary (not leaving an open area for sun and rain) because of a disease transmitted through opossum droppings. Since the aviary will be small and only 8' tall, it is entirely possible that a possum could climb onto the top. We had hoped to have open areas for sun and rain, but we do not want to endanger the birds.
Any advice?

3. We had also hoped to provide an area for foraging in dirt and grasses, but were advised not to do this since soil could harbor harmful parasites or fungus. We were planning on building a raised, tiered foraging area planted with grasses and millets. Can you please advise us?

Unfortunately, the three birds each came from homes where they were isolated and never socialized with other birds, so they will be taking turns in the aviary. We are exicited about this project and hope you can provide some advice. Thank you very much.

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Peggy and Jay, You have some very good questions. I’ll see if I can answer them. I too live in Florida and have an outdoor structure for my birds, so I think I have some insight on your issues.

As far as the fire ants, they are a problem, and I don’t like using the baits and insecticides around my birds. Diatomaceous Earth (DE) seems to be the best non toxic solution. There are also some bio solutions in the form of beneficial nematodes available, which I haven’t tried, and don’t know that I would, depending on what they are.

Diatomaceous earth is formed from the skeletal remains of the algae Bacillariophyceae and is in the form of an abrasive silica dust. When an insect comes in contact with the razor-sharp edges of these particles it causes abrasions, resulting in the loss of body fluids and ultimately death. DE works well as a protective barrier against many insects. It’s now being sold as an insecticide in most major hardware-chains and in many cases is mixed with a pyrethrin. It can be expensive, and I don’t like the fact they are mixing it with something completely unnecessary. The best way to purchase it is to leave the pesticide department and walk around to the pool department. DE is used extensively in pool filters and can be purchased in large boxes for next to nothing.

The disease you are referring to that may be transmitted through opossum droppings is sarcocystis, which is actually a protozoa. There is a whole chain of events that has to take place in the right order for this to happen, but it is somewhat common in Florida.

Since your enclosure is covered with screen on the outside, I don’t see too much of a problem. The screen would catch any droppings. Make sure that any water bowls or food bowls are not directly below any of the open area. The protozoa can be spread by cockroaches, which have injested the feces too. If that’s the ultimate threat covering the entire roof isn’t going to solve the problem, and I don’t know of much that will accept maybe the DE barrier mentioned above.

What I recommend is that the walls of the structure have a 2-foot tall kick-plate around the whole perimeter at the bottom of the walls. If the screen goes to the ground you are going to have a lot more problems with mice, rats, raccoons, and stray cats chewing or tearing through the screen than you are going to have with opossums. In my area I have to also be aware of bobcats, and here lately, a stray black bear or two. If you have a screen door for entry into the enclosure the installer can easily dismantle the door and add a taller kick-plate to the door than what comes in it. I have found through experience that a 2-foot kick plate will stop almost all mice and rats. At the rail that the top of the kick-plate is attached to you will need to add a commercially available electric fence using plastic isolators. The combination of the kick-plate and the electric fence around the top of the kick-plate will keep everything out as well as from climbing the walls to gain access to the roof. Trim back any branches that overhang the structure and could allow access by dropping down from the branches. If you don’t like the thought of using an electric fence there are motion activated sprinklers available that are made to deter most anything of the size of a squirrel on up. They are called scarecrow sprinklers. They move very quickly and do scare off most anything. They are not sensitive enough for the mice and rats, so you will still need the kick-plate.

The foraging area is difficult. Parasites and nematodes are everywhere in the soil in Florida, so I don’t know that you can be assured that any way you go about it is going to be 100% safe. First off what ever you do have your parrots de-wormed prior to putting them in the enclosure. Your foraging area is only going to be as parasite free as your birds.

My cages actually go to the ground, so I had a similar issue. What I have done is put a layer of commercial grade weed cloth down. I then covered it in a layer of crushed concrete, which should be completely void of parasites and nematodes just because of what it is. I then put a thick layer of crushed oyster/clam shell down as something natural for my birds to walk around on that is safe even if they chew on it. It’s available all over Florida where bulk garden covering and ground covers are sold. Once I put it down I rented a steam cleaner and pressure washed it with steam to both remove any remaining soil that may be trapped in the shells and to also sterilize it as best as I could.

I think you could take this one step farther and go with another layer of weed cloth on top of the crushed shell and then cover that with a very thick layer sterilized compost or garden soil. Good quality garden soil should have been heat treated to kill off any nematodes. You could then plant your grass and millet. Make sure that when you are building your frame for this area that you don’t use treated lumber.

Keep in mind that wild birds come in contact with all these things your are trying to protect your birds from. I understand your concerns and intentions. I have taken many steps in a similar direction. The best protection you can give your birds is a healthy diet and habitat to encourage a strong immune system. Sunlight, rain, and fresh air play a big roll in doing so. Take advantage of what you have to offer that so many who live in other regions cannot offer to their parrots.

filed under: Housing and Environmental Enrichment

My Question: Hi There, I am trying to get some clarity on some nutrition issues.

1) I know well that a lot of sunflower is not good, but there seems to be a big move totally against sunflower.(my birds get about 10-15% of their diet as sunflower.) Is this move totally against sunflower just the "in" thing, or is there good research behind it?

2) Vegetables are seen as more beneficial than fruit, but i have never seen a wild parrot or a photo of one eating vegetables. Fruit, grains, nuts, blossoms and bark, yes, but never vegetables. why are vegetables preferred for captive birds, is it to compensate for foods missing in a captive diet, or do captive birds just not need the quick energy boost fruit provides as much as wild birds, or is it something else?

3) What is your opinion on palm oil? (apart from the fact that parrot habitat is destroyed to create space for the palm plantations.) I do feed pellets, but I don't like diets of pellets only.

Thanks.
Bruce

Answered by Glenn Reynolds:

Hello Bruce, thanks for your questions.

First off I think we need to understand that we can’t feed a captive parrot in the same manner that a parrot would feed in the wild. Captive parrots don’t have the same caloric requirements because they don’t forage long distances for food and are really, in the best of circumstances, sedate as compared to free flying parrots. Moreover we need to consider that there are vast differences in the foods that wild parrots eat, generally determined by their geographical location, and we simply don’t have access to many of those foods. We need to consider that many captive parrots don’t have the same access to natural light and fresh air, which plays into their dietary requirements, as compared to their wild counterparts. That brings me to the very important point that there are big differences in the nutritional requirements of a parrot and the dietary requirements of an individual captive parrot. Husbandry practices play a big role in what your parrot needs to eat to reach its optimal nutritional health, which is based on much more than what species of parrot it is. You need to work your particular husbandry practices into the equation. Even the average temperature in a given situation can result in different dietary requirements of a captive parrot. Parrots kept in cool places will need more fat in their diets than parrots kept in a warmer environment. As temperatures fall a parrot's metabolism speeds up to burn more fat to keep it warm. As temperatures rise a parrot's metabolism slows down because it doesn't need to burn as much fat to stay warm. As a result, parrots kept in cooler environments will generally eat more food and in doing so also take in more nutrient because of the higher intake. Parrots kept in a warmer environment will not eat as much and may not be taking in enough nutrient if the diet is not nutrient concentrated. For example, a Moluccan Cockatoo kept indoors in New York will have notably different dietary requirements than a Moluccan Cockatoo kept in an outdoor aviary in Florida in order to reach the same level of nutritional health. These two circumstances present dramatic differences in exposure to natural light, fresh air, and average temperature, which individually or collectively will vary the dietary needs of a captive parrot.

I am sure we could do a better job at looking at some of their natural foods and trying to emulate the amino acid and fatty acid profiles, and other nutrient levels contained in those foods, yet keep the overall percentage of fat to a minimum as required by most captive parrots. When you do think about the expansive differences in diets wild parrots eat around the world it really is a wonder that we have come as far as we have in such a short time with minimal research as compared to commercial livestock and poultry. The best an individual can do is try to provide a base diet to meet known nutrient requirements for parrots in general, while keeping in mind the parameters and/or limitations of their husbandry practices, and then educate themselves on what their particular parrot needs that’s different.

The push against sunflower seed has been around for decades, and I think there are a lot of motives. I am sure the safflower industry would rather see you feeding your birds safflower. I also think the pelleted diet industry would rather see you feeding your birds pellets rather than any kind of seed.

There are a few of things I believe do have relevance in the argument. One is the high fat content of sunflower seed. On average a dried sunflower seed is about 36% fat. Another issue is that sunflower seed, as well as many of the other seed in parrot seed mixes and peanuts, go rancid rapidly and can be a perfect medium for growing aspergillus, which is a species of mold. Rancidity can result in a whole list of issues that may or may not fall under the label of aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are mycotoxins or toxic chemical byproducts of molds. Alfatoxins are amoung the most carcinogenic substances known to man. Aspergillus is ubiquitous, but can infect parrots, especially a compromised parrot. Aspergillus infections are generally secondary to other health, dietary, or husbandry issues. Aspergillus is extremely difficult to treat even when caught early. Last but not least, in order to try and give our captive parrots the broadest spectrum of fatty acids as possible the fat in their diets needs to come from a variety of foods which should have different fatty acid profiles. If we are using seed mixes, even in the smallest amounts, the fatty acid profile is most likely very limited. A variety of nuts can provide a much better source of fat.

Referring back to points made in the first paragraph, vegetables in a captive parrot’s diet provide a much broader spectrum of nutrients than fruits. Fruits are mainly water and sugar with some vitamins and minerals, vitamin C being one most likely found. Since healthy parrots produce vitamin C in their gut supplementation is generally not necessary; although, may be beneficial for young, growing, or compromised parrots. Personally, I don’t think berries get enough inclusion in the captive parrot diet, as they are packed with nutrients and antioxidants.

Palm oils are one of those foods we should look at that can provide some of the complex fatty acid profiles wild parrots consume in order to better feed our captive parrots. You need to be very careful of the source though. All fats are prone to rancidity if not properly stored. Fatty acids are very heat sensitive, so the manner in which the palm oil is stored and in which your parrot eats it plays into the equation. Using palm oils in cooked bird breads and muffins most likely does a lot of damage to the nutrients you are trying to provide in using them in the first place. I am fortunate enough to have access to fresh palm nuts, and I think it is the best way to get palm oil into your parrot. Another observation is that you generally see wild parrots eating palm fruit when it’s still green, prior to ripening, and the nutritional make up may be significantly different than the completely ripe palm fruit currently found on the market for parrot consumption and used to make most of the palm oils readily available today.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

We have a mold problem in our bathroom in our home We been advised to uses a product called Sporicidin to treat the wood sub-floor. The main ingredient is phenol. The birds we be relocated while the product is being used. Our question is can the Sporicidin out gas in the future can be any harm to our birds once the product is dried. If phenol is not safe to use around our birds, what product do you recommend if the Sporicidin isn't safe to use?

Thanks.
Lori A. Buch

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Lori- Phenol is an excellent disinfectant, but the fumes from it can be quite harmful to our companion parrots. While using this compound, I recommend removing the birds from the premises for several hours. When the Sporicidin is completely dry, ventilate the house well (fans/open windows) before returning the birds. Good luck!

Ellen K. Cook, DVM

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Last week, my eight year old sun conure, Rainbow, recently laid two eggs. I am a first-time parrot owner, and we'd always assumed she was a male, so this was surprising for her human flock-members. But more pertinently: the eggs were soft--they crumpled. Clearly, there were some issues with what I was feeding her! She's always had access to a wide variety of fresh veggies and fruits, cooked food, seeds, and pellets. But I note now how she really favored the seed, and favored the safflower seeds in the mix over everything else. She has remained healthy, active, hungry, and
affectionate.

Here's what I've done:
-- consulted an avian vet, who kindly explained the cause of the soft eggs, but said that unless she was sitting on the bottom of her cage, fluffed up and immobile, I needn't bring her in. Sheesh.
-- constructed a nest with dummy eggs and the ones she laid. She has little interest in the nest; her only interaction with it was to cover the eggs with nesting material. She does not sit in the nest or attend to it; I plan to remove it in a few weeks after the usual incubation period has elapsed.
-- began adding Quiko daily multivitamin to her water. She also has access to pure water; she prefers the multivitamin. Do you have a recommendation for a really high-quality supplement of this sort?
-- put 1/8 tsp. powdered bone meal in some of her warm foods, in addition to making sure her fresh diet has a better showing of calcium-rich foods: veggies like broccoli and collard greens; scrambled egg with shell; almonds and sesame seeds. But how much calcium is too much? Should I be feeding it in correlation with other foods that help with the absorption of it?
-- put her pellets and seeds in different dishes, so I can monitor what she's eating of what. Also, began offering only a small amount of seed once a day (but didn't want to cut that out all at once), to which she has responded by eating a larger variety of other foods.
-- changed the location and arrangement of her cage, and some of the toys
-- began covering her for the night earlier, so she's getting close to 12 hours light/12 hours dark
-- ceased to allow any regurgitation behaviors with me, her primary caregiver, and started emphasizing flock time with the whole family (which is a small little flock--just two humans and her!).

Perhaps as a result of these changes, perhaps not, she has ceased to lay eggs. With all that background in mind, here is my primary question: are these the appropriate things to be doing for her right now?

Also, what is a really good resource for information on the species-specific sun conure diet? I am curious about the digestive system, and the reproductive system, of these marvelous creatures who are so
different from, well, mammals. In short, I¹d like to learn more about psittacine physiology and health, but don't know where to start. What should I read?

Thanks!

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Thanks for this great and timely question! Spring time often, with increased daylight hours, increased reproductive activity in wild birds and the plentiful food we give our parrots, will stimulate egg-laying in our companion birds. I have had many a caregiver discover that their male parrot is, indeed, a female when they are surprised by an egg.

Egg laying is a tremendous metabolic drain on our parrots' bodies; they are not chickens! Plus, birds can develop serious reproductive and metabolic diseases from repeated egg-laying. You have already followed most of my recommendations for controlling this process with Rainbow. If 70% or more of the bird's diet is a high quality pelleted diet, I normally do not advise calcium or other supplementation, but always follow the specific recommendations of your bird's veterinarian. I prefer to supplement calcium with foods (as you are already doing) and not bone meal, so I do not worry about oversupplementation. Fresh foods fed are primarily sprouted seed and veggies, with smaller amounts of fruit. Seeds and nuts are less than 5% of the daily ration and are used only in teaching/training, only given by hand (not in the food bowl) as special treats. Reducing the fat levels in the diet, decreasing daylight hours and removing toys and/or petting which is sexually stimulating will generally reduce egg-laying. I advise removing the eggs as they are laid, especially with birds who show no interest in the eggs. Occasionally, it is better to leave eggs with those individual birds who sit on them.

With over 350 species of parrots in the world, there is obviously much to learn about specific dietary requirements. Much of the current information regarding psittacine nutrition is anecdotal and unreliable. Research is currently being done in several species. There are some excellent articles on health and nutrition in the World Parrot Trust's online reference library. Another reliable online resource is at http://www.wingwise.com.

You have already done some good research; I applaud your willingness to provide the best care for Rainbow!
Ellen K. Cook, DVM

filed under: Health and Nutrition

I’ve recently adopted a Blue Fronted Amazon named Bella. She’s 6 years old and from what I know of her history she’s been with two families, the first sold her because they had a baby and the second had her for 2 years and they were kind to her but didn’t know much about parrots. The woman was concerned as she couldn’t spend the time with her and noticed that she was getting quieter and non-active. That’s when I adopted her noticing right away that she has a slow wobble and cannot hang onto her perch properly. I have notice though that she can climb around the bars
really well so that’s reassuring. They said she’s always been this way but has gotten worse as she used to be able to hold food in her foot but not anymore as when she tries she starts wobbling and loses her balance; every time she walks it’s a huge effort for her. The previous owner noticed her getting depressed but I’m more concerned about her health and whether or not she’s going to live. I’ve made a vet appointment for a week from now because she’s eating (maybe not as much as she should) and drinking a bit so I don’t think it’s an emergency. I also want her to get used to her new place before putting her under added stress. This vet is not an avian specialist as I would prefer but I’ve heard he’s had some experience with parrots. I live in a small town and the closest Avian Vet is hours away, also they are extremely expensive which I cannot afford.

Have you heard or seen anything like this before in a parrot? I’m trying to search on Google but so far cannot piece together an answer. She also hasn’t vocalized much since I got her but it might be because she’s in new surroundings.

Any help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Starla

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Starla- Thanks for adopting this parrot in need. I am quite concerned about her symptoms. The "wobbliness" could be caused by any number of problems from arthritis to cancer or anything in between. She really needs to be seen by an avian veterinarian as soon as possible.

Birds are masters at disguising symptoms of illness and sometimes a delay of even a day or two can be disastrous. Her best chance is to take her to a knowledgeable avian veterinarian now-tomorrow may be too late!

Good luck, keep us posted.

Ellen K. Cook, DVM

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear EB, My parrot's beak seams to be splitting well part of it is coming off as though she chews on wood and breaks part of it. Is this natural or is this a vitamin deficiency? She gets vitamins in her water everyday, although she is still eating a parrot seed mixture as she wont eat fixed parrot food. She nibbles on some of the fixed parrot food but not steady yet. She also gets fresh fruit every day with fresh vegetables. Thanks in advance - Angela Barrett

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Angela, Ideally a veterinarian would answer this question. But I will give a try at offering what I have learned.

Parrot beaks grow from the base growth plate in layers, wearing off at the tip and being replenished from back and below. It is normal to have flaking and layers of keratin apparent, but too much dryness or brittleness indicate a metabolic problem. In most cases, the birds we have encountered were being fed an unbalanced diet which affected the bill indirectly.

Too much dryness as in extruded diets without sufficient omega fatty acids was one problem--often encountered in African species. Too much dry seed, especially of the safflower variety was another cause in smaller parrots.

We would begin giving such parrots a fresh raw, cooked and sprouted diet of pulses and buckwheat, lentils, mung beans, hemp seeds, etc, and adding some flax oil droplets or virgin olive oil drops onto the daily fare to increase oil intake. Vegetables are much more important than fruits, and you must make pieces small enough that the bird cannot just throw them out of a food bowl. Over a six week period, sometimes less, results would indicate a beak that became more malleable and shiny looking.

Increase amounts of nuts in the diet may help also. there is some evidence that dryness and beak problems could be related to liver function. Be sure the seeds that your bird gets are of highest quality--organic from the health food store if possible. Canary seed and spray millet are some of the best from the farm and pet store shelves.

Most vitamins that are added to drinking water are less effective than powdered vitamins sprinkled on wet food and fruits and veggies. Parrots drink minimal amounts of water to assimilate such vitamins, especially, should the vitamins make the water colored or change its taste appreciably. Also water tends to oxidize the additives and make them relatively useless after an hour or so, while any minerals settle to the bottom and are not consumed.

A small amount of high grade vitamin E squeezed from a capsule (200 iu) and gently rubbed on the beak offers a short term aid to serious flaking. Humidity in the environment should be increased, slightly, especially in the case of Eclectus, Amazons, Pionus, etc.

When you ask a question, it really helps to give the species, age and gender of your bird so that a more informative answer may be given.

I hope a vet can expound upon this rather subjective reply, so that you and all readers may benefit.

With aloha, EBC

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Hi, My latest information from WWF is that Carnaby's Black Cockatoo in South Western Australia is in trouble with recent fires and extreme weather causing many deaths. This endangered parrot is in danger of being wiped out. Do you have any new information on this situation?
Thanks,
Rachel Cassidy

Answered by WPT Administrator:

Hi Rachel, thank you for your great question! We've asked Birds Australia to comment, as they have has an ongoing conservation program for the birds for many years. Here is the reply we received from Cheryl Gole, Manager, Important Bird Areas Project - Birds Australia

"...Despite the fact that a number of Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoos have been killed or injured in severe weather events in the last few months, the species is not highly localized, so the impact on the species as a whole was not immediately critical. Across its range, the species is declining; it has disappeared from approximately one third of its historic range.

Birds Australia WA initiated a Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo Recovery Project in 2001 and, in one form or another, the project has continued ever since. Some, but not all, of the project history and current action is captured on the Birds Australia WA website here: http://www.birdsaustralia.com.au/our-projects/carnabys-black-cockatoo-recovery.html

Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo is a south west Australia endemic. Two other south west endemic parrot species (full species, not sub-species) are also under threat: Baudin’s Black-Cockatoo is now listed as Vulnerable under Australian Government legislation. Western Ground Parrot, formerly thought to be a sub-species, is now recognized as one of Australia’s most endangered birds. Not yet listed under the Australian Government’s EPBC Act, it is listed under Western Australian State legislation as Critically Endangered..."

We expect to receive additional details soon and will post the information here upon our receipt.

Many thanks again,
Best, Steve Milpacher - WPT Webmaster

filed under: Conservation

Hi! I need advice, My husband gave me an Australian King Parrot about a year ago and he appears to be fine, but this morning I found him dead, What are the possibilities of death by temperature changes, he was inside the house and the room temperature was 72F, my husband said that he needed to be in a higher temperature setting.

Thank you
Nancy

Answered by Ellen K. Cook, D.V.M.:

Hi Nancy, I am sorry for the loss of your parrot. Unfortunately, due to birds' phenomenal ability to disguise symptoms of illness, we see far too many sudden, unexplained deaths in our companion parrots. Often, birds can have advanced disease and still be eating, active and appear perfectly normal. The only way to diagnose the possible cause of death in your bird is for a qualified avian veterinarian to perform a necropsy (the animal equivalent of an autopsy).

A normal, healthy parrot can live in far cooler temperatures because their down feathers provide excellent insulation. In fact, birds can better tolerate lower rather than higher environmental temperatures. I keep my birds in 60-65F temperature and this is what I recommend to my clients. If a bird is sick, they do need to be kept warmer. I would guess that being too cold was NOT the cause of your bird's death.

I recommend to my clients that they weigh their parrots weekly: a 5% drop in weight is enough to be cause for concern. I also stress the importance of an annual physical examination as a way to prevent or diagnose disease before it becomes too serious.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Hello Dr.Speer, My regent parrot had his wings clipped when I got him. He is 9 months old now and the primary feathers have grown out on only one wing. I am concerned that they have not grown on the other wing.
Could this be a medical problem?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

In many psittacines of this size or larger, the juvenile moult is first completed (in my experience) in the 6-10 month age group or so. It is possible that your bird still may get there. One of the spin-off problems that occurs with some of the types of wing trims that are performed in young birds, is that the stage is set for falling, recurring trauma and a secondary inhibition of pinfeather re-growth. If this is a persistent observation in this bird after another few months, I would certainly recommend a physical examination.

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear Dr. Speer, I have a female Seram Cockatoo of unknown age. I have had her for over 10 years. She is a very healthy bird who gets annual bloodwork and chem panels that have never shown an indication of illness. One thing that bothers me is
that her feet have always been very dry, to the point of cracking. To resolve this issue I soak her feet in aloe and water and then massage lanolin into them. The past 5 years or so I have noticed that she is getting white splotches on her nails. We (my vet and I) can not determine what the cause can be. They almost look like "bubbles" under her top layer of her nails. Her diet consists of Harrison's Hi-Po, organic fresh and/or frozen veggies daily (focusing on high beta-carotene foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes, etc) and fruit 2 times a week. She gets a total of about a 1/4 cup of mixed nuts in the shell weekly.She also gets Avix Sunshine Factor every other day. She gets showered every other day in filtered water from a shower-head
i specifically bought for my birds which removes the chlorine via activated carbon. As a "final rinse" after the shower she is very lightly misted w/ avix soother. Her feathers are gorgeous and she no longer plucks like she did when I first got her. She is fully flighted. The humidity in their room is set at 50%. She gets natural sunlight every other day (weather permitting) for a min of 2 hours. I thought I once read that white spots on the nails can be a sign of illness or deficiency, so even though she seems healthy I find myself obsessing over these white spots. My other Seram cockatoo does not have these. Is there a possibility that this is her natural nail make up? I notice she has other things I have never seen on other Seram cockatoos such
as black "eyelash" follicles. What are your opinions? Do you have any testing, feeding or environmental suggestions?

Answered by Dr. Brian Speer, DVM:

Sunny - alone, those color changes in the nails to not necessarily concern me too much. This could be secondary to the primary process that is causing the drdy and cracking issues on the feet (I do not really see this in the photos), mechanical trauma issues caused by the bird, or the topical medications you have been applying to the feet and nails. If the skin lesions are progressive, I'd suggest you ask your veterinarian to consider further investigation, but otherwise, would not necessarily recommend a "jump" to treatment or detailed diagnostic investigation (yet)

filed under: Health and Nutrition

Dear Phoebe, I have two questions. Firstly I have a Hahn's macaw (Einstein) and a Sun Conure (Gizmo), I stopped clipping their wings about a year ago. Gizmo doesn’t fly much at all, but Einstein is becoming very handy with his wings and is able to maneuver around the house very well. The problem is about a week ago an Ibis flew past a window and frightened them, in a panic Einstein flew across the room so fast that he flew into the opposite wall (I would never have believed a parrot could fly so fast if I hadn't seen it myself), luckily he was not injured, but I am concerned that if it happens again we may not be so lucky.

Is there a way to clip his wings to reduce his speed without having a huge effect on his maneuverability, or is there something else I could try to slow him down? I don’t want to deprive him of flight unless it is absolutely necessary for his safety (and as soon as money allows I will be building an outdoor flight about 3m x 9m).

Second question. PTFE fumes. Are they only a problem with Teflon and similar coatings or are enamel and ceramic coatings also a problem? I recently found a 'green pan' that is ceramic coated and claims 'no PTFE or PFOA' and 'no toxic fumes', is this safe for birds, or is it better just to stick to good old stainless steel?

Thanks, Bruce Wilson

Answered by Phoebe Green Linden:

Hi Bruce, We are so excited to get in on the flight action with you, Gizmo and Einstein. Bonnet (one of my wonderful avian companions) and I are also amidst flight explorations and we, like you, have had our share of lucky-and-we-don’t-want-to-push-it experiences with parrots in flight in the house. So, we're with you and we'll be ready to fly in a moment.

First, good question on the pans. In order to keep it simple, I stay with stainless and well-seasoned cast iron pieces, then abide by simple reminders: use veggies and olive oil, avoid overcooking, and ventilate for clean cooking and air that's parrot-healthy.

Our first question is for Gizmo, as in what's up with the not flying very much, buddy? We've seen your cousins zoom around like gleaming banners crossing paths in mid-air and landing fast in order to turn tummy to sky for Sun Conuring. Bruce, as the human, you probably need to check in with Giz to see what kind of physical activities he’d like to check out to further his psittacine-physicality. Maybe Gizmo likes stretching – what is his full range of motion? – or big flapping hops from this cool place to a new cool parrot place. Bonnet says, think flock habitat expansion, Bruce – parrots love habitat. Set up a great place for Gizmo to do his wing-beats and let’s see what happens.

Einstein is indeed a genius and you must be super excited to be sharing space and consciousness with such an amazing parrot. Do you know that “Hanh's” stands for “His Honor”? I just made that up, but it seems right, doesn't it? Anyway, an Ibis flying across one's fields of vision is a flap-worthy event, so Einstein was acting like a parrot when he took off in response. The wall is the problem, not Einstein's wings. Bonnet wants to know, will you knock out the wall when you build the aviary?

In the meantime, survey the habitat as if from Einstein's point of view, taking in to consideration the picture window and its often still-except-when-moving, sometimes surprising, views. As you see what he sees, wait a while, fit into that habitat, relax and try it on for size, Hahn's size. Some changes to Einstein and Gizmo’s environments will be obvious, and those you should make right away. Others will reveal themselves over time and yet others will be inspired by their increasing athleticism.

Bonnet and I also enjoy quiet moments together in front of windows especially when she gets to show me something humans might otherwise miss. You and Einstein can together experience lots of different interesting views, so put some time into looking.

Additionally, create more and more suitable parrot-specific landing places for your budding athletes. Table-top perches, a weighted basket on top of the refrigerator, a trusty chair back – all are great. Bolt-worthy events will happen. When you and your parrots are all comfortable that there’s a variety of safe landing spaces that all competently access, flight is no longer twisted with fright.
Bruce, have you watched PollyVision with your parrots? If not, we recommend it!! Here we see parrots really flying and acting like parrots and here we get our best decorating tips, too.

All best, Phoebe and Bonnet

filed under: Parrot Care

Dear EB, Have you ever encountered a hybrid between a Timneh and a Congo Grey Parrot? The pet store near here has one (they say), which is just now being fledged and looks like a Congo, at least right now with very few feathers, etc. They also have a parasol cockatoo, which apparently is a cross between a umbrella and a Goffin (she's about 25 percent larger than a Goffin and has
the coloration of an unbrella, with an umbrella crest. What are the ethical questions, if any of bringing these animals into the world? On one hand, if they are not found in nature, then perhaps we are wadding too deep into the gene pool, so to speak. But, of course, there are other hybrids out there that are taken for granted. Then again, these hybrids may not be able to reproduce.

Thanks, Bill C.

Answered by E.B. Cravens:

Dear Bill,

I am probably not the best person to be answering this question, and I would welcome comments from Jamie or Dr. Speer, Sam Williams or Eva Sargent or others. We have encountered hybrid cockatoos in the past; and have hard about Greys being interbred.

There are, of course ethical questions involved--as there are in most areas of the live animal trade. I do not personally approve of hybridization between species of psittacine, nor of subspecies interbreeding when the types are known to be different, though the latter happened all to often in the past between races of parrots that were thought to be identical or mistaken for the same subspecies.

An interesting quote from Catherine A. Toft, Department of Zoology, University of California-Davis:

"Hybridization is the fastest and surest way to destroy the genetic make-up of a species. It breaks up complexes of genes that allow species to be adapted to their natural environment and to be recognized as potential mates."

Many rationale have been used over the years as justification by those breeders who produce hybrids--from "we are combining the best traits of both species" which of course is absurd, to "they are only being produced for the pet trade," which is a fallacy as we shall see here.

It is easy for us to see a hybrid Ara macaw, for example, because of the distorted coloration. But in aviaries of breeding birds, I have encountered macaws with faint "ruby" (Greenwing/Scarlet) or mili-gold bloodlines in their past. Such birds may only show only one quarter of the original hybridization because they have descended from lines that were bred back to nominate species. This is where the real hidden long term damage of hybrid production "for the pet trade" enters the scene.

Amateurish breeders with few ethical considerations and even less patience will procure at low price a hybrid former pet, then pair it up for commercial breeding with the first candidate to come along.

"We are trying for new and different colors, I have been told." I find such reasoning shallow, and such odd colored parrots lacking in the symmetry and beauty that the gods initially gave them.

Of course, money is usually the bottom line when it comes to such ethical decisions as producing hybrids at a facility.

But , when one tries to disassociate captive and pet industry psittacines from those living in the wilds, merely because there is little likelihood that the former will ever be released to help repopulate dwindling numbers, I think one does conservation of these birds a real disservice.

Is it the role of the bird breeder to assume this disassociation and accordingly condemn all captive parrots, with their valuable gene characteristics, to a second rate role in world psittacine conservation?

I think not, and as an aviculturist who tries to propose conservation logic first--I would beg to differ with such a reasoning.

My role as I see it is to protect for the future; to save and guard and conserve all that is possible in my tiny little piece of captive parrotdom. And when it comes to hybrids, this means I will refuse to dilute any of my pure natural species for any minimalist reason--nor will I ever condone it amongst other true aviculturists.

We either face the fact that we are stewards of a precious god-given gift for the generations ahead, or we play at bird breeding and pay lip service to conservation in order to stave off the animal activists who might just see through our ethical ruse.

I hope this sheds some light on your inquiry. As I said, I am not the most capable person to answer this question.
Best, EB

[Editor's note: As Cathy Toft was noted in the above, we asked her to comment on this issue. Here is her reply.]

Dear Bill:

E.B. has taken a quote from me from one of the articles that I wrote explaining population genetics to aviculturists precisely for the reason of persuading them not to hybridize parrots in captivity. (A comprehensive summary is in Toft, C.A. 1994. The genetics of captive propagation: A manual for aviculturists. Special Publications of Psittacine Research Project, Number 1. Ann Brice, Ed. Department of Avian Sciences, University of California, Davis.) I also wrote several articles for bird publications and proceedings asking whether hybridization has a place in aviculture.

In many ways, I hold E.B.'s position. As a conservation biologist, ecologist and evolutionary biologist, I prefer parrots in captivity to stay as they are in the wild.

Originally, I took (and still take) the position that private aviculture holds a treasure in the form of established breeding populations of species that are threatened or endangered in the wild. I imagined what would have happened had the aviculturists in Europe had the foresight to maintain a population of Carolina Parakeets Conuropsis carolinensis for long enough, so that their offspring could restore this species to its original range in the United States. To do so would require a sufficiently large population and sound breeding practices. Importantly, the genetic architecture would still be in place to allow those individuals to survive and reproduce in the environments in which their ancestral populations originally evolved. Hybridization was not the only threat to achieving this goal, but it was certainly the gravest.

Since the early 1990's, my position has softened somewhat, or should I say, diversified. My colleague, Jamie Gilardi, has pointed out to me that as many parrot individuals live in captivity as in the wild. As E.B. says, by far most of those individuals would not be released to the wild and moreover could not survive there. Also, other threats to the feasibility of using captive-bred individuals to augment or re-establish wild populations have become clearer. One of those is the inevitable transfer of viruses from their original host populations to those of species that the viruses would never encounter in the wild. And, once established, these viruses will never be eradicated. This spectre of epidemic makes re-introductions all the more problematic.

For these and other reasons, I have changed my position on the domestication of parrots. Now, I say "Why not?"

For one, captive life is nothing like life in the wild. If aviculture develops lines of parrots more suited to lives with humans, then those individuals will lead higher quality lives. Perhaps parrots that are less jealous of their mates will be happier as pets—in their wild state, by far most parrots are life-long monogamous. This trait often results in their misery as pets, as well-meaning pet owners keep parrots each in solitary confinement or at least without a same-species companion so that the parrot will bond more to the human. Unfortunately, the human does not keep his or her end of the bargain and worse, objects to the parrot’s natural behaviors related to monogamous bonding with the human. Parrot with lower metabolic rates or different physiologies might fare better on captive foods, for example, not gain as much weight or need as much protein. Changing these traits is possible with "artificial selection" which humans have practiced for thousands of years to domesticate many species of plants and animals. And if humans practice this sort of captive selective breeding, then why not make the parrots look really different than their wild counterparts? As Rick Jordan once challenged me, why not breed a black macaw? Or a purple, pink polka dot macaw? Their appearance would hardly matter if domesticated parrots had other genetic traits suited for captivity but not for the wild.

Another reason is that espoused by my colleague, Nate Flesness, Science Director of I.S.I.S. Long ago Nate introduced me to the idea that connection with nature through animals in captivity was a good thing, even if there were tradeoffs involved, such as the domestication of parrots might create. After all, how many of us can travel at will to a rainforest in Peru to see parrots? Having parrots living in harmony with us in our homes is a powerful conservation tool that I am sure is appreciated also by the staff and members of WPT.

Yet, my bias would still be E.B.'s viewpoint. Why lose optimism that captive parrots can be released to re-establish populations in their native ranges? Jamie has told me about many, very successful ventures, quite a few supported by the WPT, to introduce captive-bred and confiscated parrots back to free-living existences. I am thrilled and heartened by these efforts. Although pristine, primary rainforest and other non-disturbed habitats are vanishing, parrot populations can nevertheless thrive in the presence of humans. Parrots are intelligent, social, and usually generalist in their habits. Released individuals can easily establish healthy populations in the presence of humans, provided that their chicks are not relentlessly poached for the pet trade. The increasing populations of feral parrots around the world attest to this fact. Poaching in the native range should decrease with a combination of legal bans (I co-authored a paper with Tim Wright and others that spoke to the efficacy of legal bans) and thriving captive populations of those species maintained to preserve their wild characteristics.

In the end, I encourage aviculturists to maintain their interest in and support of conservation. One important way that they may do so is to continue to breed parrots with practices aimed to maintain the genetic architecture of wild populations, just in case descendents from their lines may be needed in restoration projects. While I no longer denounce domestication of parrots, and I even encourage it, I see no reason why we should abandon conservation breeding. It is my hope that many parrot enthusiasts of all stripes will continue to support the conservation of wild parrots in any way that they can.

Cathy Toft
Professor Emerita
Department of Evolution & Ecology
Center for Population Biology
University of California Davis.

filed under: Ethics and Welfare

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